Dioxin: State Developments

December 20, 2016 | Complex Torts & Product Liability

$53 Million in Passaic River Settlement Proceeds Awarded for Local Projects

New Jersey is awarding more than $53 million in grants to communities within the watershed of the lower Passaic River and the Newark Bay complex in an effort to improve public access and restore wetlands ecosystems.

Natural Resource Damage Settlement

The grants are the result of a $190 million natural resource damage settlement reached by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office with Occidental Chemical Corporation, as successor to Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Company, and other parties alleged to have been associated with the discharge over many years of dioxins, pesticides, metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”), and other products into the Passaic River. A New Jersey court approved the settlement in 2014. As part of this settlement, Occidental agreed to $50 million in watershed enhancement projects.

The DEP said in a statement that additional funding for the projects is coming from other natural resource damage settlements that the DEP has negotiated. Grant awardees are required to provide matching funds.

“The Christie Administration has been committed to taking the necessary steps to ensure the remediation of the Passaic River, making sure that those responsible for the pollution pay for the cleanup, and reconnecting people to this resource,” New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno said. “The residents of communities that line the river and Newark Bay complex have a right to enjoy these waterways,” Lieutenant Governor Guadagno added, concluding that the grants “mark a major turning point in achieving our goals.”

Projects to be funded with the grant money include the continued development of Newark’s Riverfront Park, an Essex County boathouse, a walkway along the Arthur Kill in Carteret, restoration of access to Dundee Island in Passaic City, and creation of a park and wetlands complex in Bloomfield.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment

A New Jersey congressman, Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-Paterson), reportedly is disappointed that only a portion of the settlement has been used for environmental purposes. He told northjersey.com, part of the USA Today network, that, “It is shameful that less than a third of the settlement has been directed to clean up and restoring the environment. The state is shortchanging our river communities by balancing the budget at the expense of environmental restoration on a river that has suffered decades of neglect.”

As discussed last month in Dioxin: Legislative Developments, a proposed constitutional amendment has been introduced in the New Jersey legislature that, if adopted, would dedicate all moneys from settlements and awards collected by the state in connection with legal claims based on environmental contamination.

Under the proposal, these amounts only could be used to repair damage to, restore, or permanently protect the state’s natural resources, such as for cleaning contaminated sites and underground storage tank sites and preserving open space, farmland, and historic buildings or sites.

For further information, please contact James V. Aiosa, Paul V. Majkowski, Lawrence S. Han, or your regular Rivkin Radler attorney.

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